Icy Sidewalks And Injury Prevention

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(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Every winter, many people are injured when they slip and fall on icy sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots. These injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises to broken bones and head injuries. Whether you’re a property owner/manager or just going for a walk outside, there are some things you can do to help prevent injury to yourself or others when the pavement gets slippery.

For Property Owners/Managers

  • If you don’t have access to a snowblower or a plow, shoveling walking surfaces early and often during heavy storms will make the job easier and less stressful on your body. While shoveling, drink plenty of water and take breaks.
  • Make sure entrances and vestibules are kept dry or wet floor signs are present when water and slush are tracked into a building.
  • Check your local municipal government’s website to see if there are laws or ordinances regarding snow removal deadlines to avoid fines or citations.
  • Be mindful of the type of salt/de-icer you use on your driveway/walkway and apply only the recommended amounts as indicated by the manufacturer. Certain kinds are harmful to plants, animals, water supplies, and may even damage the surface itself.
  • Grit, such as sand, kitty litter, and gravel can help provide extra traction on stairs and sidewalks, especially when combined with salt or de-icer.
  • Lock all gates, doors, and fences leading to restricted or unused outdoor areas (such as bar or restaurant patios) to prevent trespassers and unauthorized visitors from slipping on untreated surfaces.
  • Risk Transfer – if you’re using a contractor to clear snow and ice from walkways, driveways and parking lots, make sure you have a signed contract with contractor assuming responsibility for this exposure and you are named as an Additional Insured on the contractor’s GL policy covering this operation.

For Pedestrians

  • Move slowly and try to keep your steps flat to the surface to avoid slipping on icy or wet areas.
  • Wear shoes or boots with plenty of traction. If the soles of your footwear are smooth or worn, they are more prone to losing grip on slippery surfaces.
  • Black ice may form when the temperature drops suddenly after a storm. Be especially careful walking outside after the weather has been cold and wet.
  • Watch out for traffic. Icy conditions for pedestrians mean icy roads for motorists who may lose control of their vehicles if they’re not careful.

Icy and untreated sidewalks are dangerous and can leave your home or business vulnerable to a injury claim or lawsuit. Following these tips can help mitigate your risk of being liable if someone slips and falls.

Maintaining Vacant Property

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It is easy to understand how an unoccupied office, building, or apartment could seem harmless from the perspective of the insured. Many business owners operate remotely and maintain vacant property in other locations. Vacant properties however, can present a surprising number of challenges if not properly monitored.

Property is considered vacant if less than 31% is occupied. Because of the lack of owner or tenant presence, vacant properties are more likely to experience damage and are prone to criminal activity.

Property that has been vacant for 60 consecutive days before the loss may not be covered by an insurance claim if the following events occur:

  • Vandalism
  • Sprinkler leakage (resulting from unprotected pipes)
  • Glass breakage
  • Water damage
  • Theft or attempted theft

In addition, other covered causes of loss are reduced by 15% for vacant but insured property.

Consider taking steps to ensure that your vacant commercial property is secured and protected from loss that may occur in an owner’s absence. There are ways that both tenants and property owners can reduce the risk associated with unoccupied building space for extended periods of time. Properly setting the thermostat, or using a remote climate controlled system, and turning off the water supply when not in use prevents leaks, cracks, and water damage. Ensuring that ice dams are prevented and gutters cleaned out also helps reduce possible damage. Installing an alarm system and providing lighting around the perimeter discourages burglary, theft, and glass breakage.

Protect Your Home from Wildlife Entry

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During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.

Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:

  • Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
  • Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
  • Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
  • Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
  • Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks

Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

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Every May, the NHTSA and state governments come together to coordinate Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, which strives to spread awareness about motorcycle laws and education designed to keep everyone on the road safe. The number of deaths and injuries caused by accidents involving motorcycles is staggering, and many of these are caused by non-motorcycle users of the road. It’s important to understand safety issues facing motorcycles in traffic, regardless of whether your vehicle has two wheels or more. Below is a list of safety tips you should familiarize yourself with before your next ride:


For Motorcyclists:

  • Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet while riding. You are much more likely to experience severe brain damage caused by head trauma in a crash if you are wearing a non-compliant helmet.
  • Wear brighter, more reflective gear, especially while traveling at night, and make sure your lights are functioning, bright, and visible (unblocked).
  • Lane splitting may help save time and avoid getting rear-ended in heavy traffic, but it can also be very dangerous and illegal. If you’re going to filter forward, make sure it is done safely, with courtesy, and only where it is legal.


For Other Road Users:

  • Because motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks, they can be more difficult to spot, especially in blind spots. Always check your blind spots & mirrors, use your turn signals, and use extra care when you know motorcycles are nearby.
  • Give more following distance to motorcycles. This gives motorcyclists room to perform emergency stops or maneuvers for road hazards like gravel, potholes, standing water, cracks, or train tracks that passenger vehicles can usually continue over at reduced speed.
  • Share the road with motorcyclists, but not the lane. Motorcyclists should always get a full lane width, even if it may look like there is room for a car.


For Everyone:

  • Never operate any vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Leave the phone in your pocket and just focus on the road. Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
  • Take time to rest during long trips so you stay alert, awake, and ready for the road ahead.

You can learn more about Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month at the NHTSA’s website.

Understanding Employment Practices Liability Risk

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(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Many businesses underestimate the potential risk involved with not having employment practices liability insurance (EPLI). Having a code of conduct and expertise in human resources helps mitigate most forms of unlawful employment practices, but incidents can and do still happen. Every business is exposed to employment practices liability, an area of professional liability that includes:

 

  • Breach of Contract
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Wage/Hour Law Violations
  • Intentional Emotional Distress
  • Wrongful Termination
  • False Imprisonment

 

The laws regarding these illegal practices are interpreted and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which recognizes eleven types of employment practices discrimination: age, disability, equal pay/compensation, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment.1, 2

 

Employment practices don’t deal with just full-time employees either. Volunteers, part-time workers, contractors, customers, and vendors can all file charges against an employer for an alleged violation of these laws. With these types of charges on the rise, it is important for business owners to fully understand the laws surrounding employment practices as well as the tools needed to best protect them from potential lawsuits. For more information about employment practices liability, visit our Employer Protection resource page.
1 http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/index.cfm

2 http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/index.cfm

Daylight Saving Time Spring Checklist

Daylight Saving Time

It’s time to “spring forward” for daylight saving early this Sunday morning, March 13. Since it occurs twice a year, daylight saving is the perfect time to perform basic maintenance in and around your home:

  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check to see if they have expiration dates, and change the batteries.
  • After a winter of using your fireplace or wood stove, have your chimney cleaned and inspected.
  • Check your fire extinguishers’ gauges to make sure they are still charged sufficiently. If they’re low, contact your local fire department to find out where to recharge them. Extinguishers must always be recharged after use. Make sure one is always easily accessible throughout your home.
  • Check outside railings, stairs, and walkways if you have them for needed repair after the winter.
  • Check trees for signs of damaged branches that might need to come down. Consider contacting a tree professional.
  • Perform spring maintenance on appliances and home systems:
    • Change filters in your HVAC systems as needed, or have them serviced.
    • Clean your refrigerator—wipe down the inside and vacuum underneath and behind to ensure optimal operating efficiency.
    • Drain the water heater to flush out sediment.

(Did you know that sudden damage to these home systems and appliances caused by accident, breakdown, or human error is typically not covered under most warranties or service contracts? Repairs can often cost thousands of dollars. Read more on how to protect these systems.)

  • Change your windshield wiper blades. If you have snow tires, plan to remove them as the weather gets warmer and snow and ice are no longer on the horizon.
  • Contact your insurance agent to review your coverage to make sure it’s still adequate, especially if you’ve had any major purchases or life events in the last year.

Daylight saving is a helpful calendar reminder to do these routine maintenance tasks. We’ll make sure to publish one in the fall as well, which will be somewhat different due to seasonality.

Business Continuity – Emergency Generators

Emergency Standby Generators Infographic
(Photo Credit: Mutual Boiler Re)

U.S. businesses lose $150 billion annually due to blackouts and weather-related events. Most commercial businesses today have emergency generators, which is an important first step. But it’s important to make sure the generator has been properly installed, and to perform routine maintenance, as illustrated by the infographic above (click to view full version).

How to Prevent a Dryer Fire

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(Photo Credit: iStock)

Did you know failure to properly clean and maintain a clothes dryer is the leading cause of a dryer fire? Here are some precautions to help prevent these fires:

  • Have your dryer installed and serviced by a professional, and make sure it’s properly grounded
  • Don’t use the dryer without a lint filter, and make sure to clean the lint filter before or after each load of laundry
  • Remove lint that has collected around the drum and wash the filter screen to remove chemical residue every six months. Vacuum the motor area to remove dust and lint. (You may have to remove a panel.)
  • Use rigid or flexible metal venting material to vent outside. Vacuum out accumulated lint twice a year.
  • Make sure that the outdoor vent flap isn’t blocked or covered and will open when the dryer is operating, especially when snow starts to pile up.
  • Clean commercial dryer vents regularly—they get a lot of use and have a common venting system.
  • Don’t overload your dryer.
  • Turn off the dryer if you’re going out and when you are going to bed.

These tips are courtesy of the Office of the State Fire Marshall, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Fire Protection Association. To find more detailed information, view these NFPA dryer-safety tips.

Winter-Weather Driving

Winter-weather driving
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Winter-weather driving can be very dangerous if you aren’t prepared.  Here are some important safety precautions to help make sure that you and your vehicle are ready to take on the winter weather.

Be prepared:

  • Check your tires for proper inflation and tread depth, and make sure they are rated for winter conditions. Consider purchasing snow tires.
  • Check your wiper blades and top off your windshield washer fluid.
  • Keep your gas tank full. You’ll avoid running out of gas on a cold night and sometimes cars with low fuel levels are harder to start because of condensation in the tank.
  • Have your mechanic perform a tune-up to prevent a midwinter breakdown.
  • If your vehicle is rear wheel drive, place a few bags of sand or rock salt (100+ pounds) in the trunk to improve traction in snow. This can also be used as grit in case your vehicle gets stuck.
  • Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your vehicle. Some things to include: a cell phone and charger, blankets, flashlights with batteries, flares, pocket knife, non-perishable food, bottled water, shovel, windshield scraper and brush, first aid kit, basic tool kit, road map and compass, tow rope, jumper cables.

Your car is prepared. Now what?

Follow these simple tips when getting on the road:

  • Monitor weather reports. Plan your best route and allow more travel time to your destination.
  • Approach intersections with extreme caution even if you have a green light. Apply brakes gently to avoid sliding.
  • Turn on your lights when driving, even during the day as winter daylight can be dim.

We hope that these driving safety tips help prepare you for safe travels this winter.

PS: If you’re in the market for a new car, check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s 2016 Top Safety Picks.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes
(Photo Credit: IBHS)

Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.

Be prepared:

  • For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
  • Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
  • Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
  • Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
  • Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).

During periods of severe cold:

  • Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
  • Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.

Before leaving for an extended period of time:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
  • Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
  • Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.

My Pipes Froze. Now What?

Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.

For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.